Location: English Harbour, Antigua
The hot tropical sun rose early above the crumbling fort of English Harbor. A sole figure stood at the stern of a large black sailing schooner tied to the dock. It was the only vessel docked in the usually bustling dockyard. It was late in the season, and the usual mega-yachts had left to avoid the hurricanes. The sun rose slowly, and a few minutes before 0700, another figure rose from the compartment in the fo’c’sle of the boat. He donned a strange colorful necklace and descended into the main salon. The galley was already abuzz with the chef and her sous-chefs cooking breakfast. The man in the strange necklace went about the quite painful (and sometimes perilous) task of waking the rest of the crew. It was to be a busy day.
After some ado, the crew was mustered onto the deck for breakfast. A stumbling line of partially awake men and women piled their plates with eggs and sausage and found themselves a comfortable patch of the deck to sit on. The eating ended, and the man in the colored necklace gave the brief for the day. That morning the rescue divers would spend time drilling on the beach while the rest of the crew was able to freely roam around the dockyard.
Those of us who were not rescue divers headed to the Copper and Lumber hotel and restaurant to sit, drink iced coffee, relax and work on our Oceanography homework – to varying degrees of productivity. This took us the duration of the morning and to lunch when the rescue divers returned. I leave you to this summary of their day of adventures by our very own Chelsea Foulke and Emma Rigolo.
“We woke at sunrise and were thrown into the ocean with only our scuba kit on our backs and the skills we have come to possess (and two instructors, the dingy, and don’t forget the debrief. We also got into the water at about 10 am, but all of this is beside the point). Even though all of us were exhausted from the previous days of studying for midterms, we were more than excited to get back underwater. After a couple of hours of rescue breaths, simulating vertigo, and straddling unconscious divers’ tanks while ascending to the surface of the water (don’t worry parents, it’s all an act, and honestly, we should win Oscars), we came to our last exercise. It was one we were dreading from the beginning of our rescue course: pulling unconscious divers ashore. To say it was hysterical is an understatement. There are several different ways to pull a diver out of the water. My personal favorite is the fireman method because it makes you feel like Poseidon himself emerging from the ocean until you rapidly face plant into the sand, which happened more times than I can count. Overall, we couldn’t have asked for a better training dive, and you should all feel more than comfortable with us saving your lives underwater anytime”.
My thanks to Chelsea and Emma for that riveting account. After a delicious lunch of quesadillas and guacamole, it was back to Copper and Lumber with the lot of us, for an engaging and challenging class of Seamanship. With navigation charts on the tables in front of us, we practiced 3-point fixes of our location exhaustively – or at least until we were exhausted. We then took a break for smoothies (personally, I am especially fond of the passion fruit, but the wildberry was also fantastic), and got right back to our navigation, now focused on dead reckoning. This took us to the end of class, and 1630 when we returned to Ocean Star to prep the boat for passage to St. Barths. With nary five words from the Captain, the crew sprang to action. “Run the jack-lines!” “Man, the Quarter-lifts!” “All items stowed!” By 1830 the boat was prepped for passage, the crew ate dinner of sausage and gnocchi with red sauce (again delicious), and then readied to cast off from the dock.
At 2100 hours, with dinner finished, the crew cast off dock lines, stowed fenders, and got underway. Ocean Star slid silently out of English Harbor, as the crew readied to raise her sails in the dark. We had never raised sails before in the dark, but our well-practiced hands faired without woe. We set course southwest to clear a reef on Antigua’s western coast and then tacked north towards St. Barths. The passage was to take 14 hours, and, as always, the crew was split into two watch teams. Watch team two was excused for the first shift, and they crawled into their gently tossing bunks, grateful for the few hours of sleep they would get before they were called back to the deck. Watch team one stood vigilant watch, eyeful for changes in the wind and the waves. Ocean Star sailed north, lit by the moon and her reflection on the waves.
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